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La Salle-Peru sophomore Ellie Senica leaps up for a kill Thursday during the Lady Cavaliers’ 25-16, 25-17 victory over Streator in the Class 3A Pontiac Regional championship. The Lady Cavs (29-7) advance to the Mendota Sectional where they will face Rock Falls in a semifinal at 7 p.m. Tuesday. NewsTribune photo/Anthony Soufflé
PONTIAC — Jessica Suarez has won a regional championship before, but that doesn’t mean she appreciates it any less the second time around.
The La Salle-Peru senior jumped in the air and rushed to mid-court with her teammates Thursday after her ace finished off the Lady Cavaliers’ 25-16, 25-17 victory over Streator in the Class 3A Pontiac Regional final.
“It feels awesome,” Suarez said about L-P’s second consecutive regional title and fifth in the last six years. “I mean, every win is amazing, but a regional win is fantastic. Some girls go four years without winning a regional, so for some of us on the team to go two years winning a regional is awesome.”
That previous postseason experience showed Thursday, especially in the second set when the Lady Bulldogs took leads of 3-0, 10-7 and 13-9 before the Lady Cavs rallied to win.
“Absolutely, I think experience played a big part,” said L-P coach Mark Haberkorn, who has won 13 regional titles. “We’ve been in the regional finals for five of the last six years. Our players, when push came to shove, I thought they gained their composure and were able to handle Streator’s aggressiveness.
“I thought our serve-receive got better and we got some key blocks and some key kills at the right time.”
Down 13-9, L-P got the ball back on a Streator service error. The Lady Cavs rallied to tie the game on a Streator error, a Suarez tip and a block by Suarez and Heather Senica.
The Lady Cavs took the lead for good at 15-14 on a Streator error.
“Net play, I think,” Suarez said about what turned the Lady Cavs around. “Ellie (Senica) stepped up at the end and got a lot of touches that were crucial, and serving was very good too, so that helped.”
Suarez, who had a team-high eight kills along with three blocks, finished off the match with a six-point service run that ended with her ace that shanked off a Streator player.
“When it comes to crunch time, that’s what seniors should do,” Haberkorn said about Suarez. “She’s a three-year starter and she’s been here before.”
L-P had a much easier time in the first set, taking an 11-4 advantage and leading by at least six points the rest of the way.
The Lady Cavs (29-7) advance to the Class 3A Mendota Sectional semifinals where they will face Rock Falls at 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Rock Falls (27-10) beat Sterling 20-25, 25-15, 25-17 in the Class 3A Sterling Regional final Thursday.
“I’m very excited because I didn’t want it to end so soon,” L-P senior Brittany Zawacki said about winning a regional. “Last year we won regionals and I know how nice and fun that was, and I can’t wait to go on again this year.”
The Lady Cavs beat Rock Falls 20-17, 22-20 in pool play at the Dixon Invitational on Oct. 6.
“We already played Rock Falls in the Dixon tournament and we beat them in two, but they’re exceptional,” Haberkorn said. “They’re well coached and they have good talent. We’re going to have to play one of our best matches in order to win.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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